Tony Douglas, chief executive officer of Etihad Airways
Tony Douglas, chief executive officer of Etihad Airways Image Credit: Bloomberg

Etihad started its sustainable journey with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which it calls the Greenliner. And now the A350 will add more muscle to its carbon reduction ambitions.

Not only does the new Airbus consume less fuel, it has better seat load capacity as well.

“The Greenliner and the A350 are an opportunity for businesses who have ideas on how they can make aviation sustainable,” Tony Douglas, Group CEO, Etihad Aviation Group, said.

They will form the backbone of the Etihad fleet going forward, he added.

Douglas said the Greenliner was 72 per cent more efficient when it flew directly from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in October 2021, compared to the A380 aircraft, thanks to the use of sustainable aviation fuel and a direct, streamlined route that got aviation authorities across governments into action.

“Airlines alone play a small part in this entire commitment,” Douglas said. “The Greenliner used 38 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, and that’s because the 50 per cent sustainable fuel that Etihad wanted wasn’t available. More than that, it has two engines, while the A380 has four. That’s a significant emission cut right there.”

Sustainable aviation fuel is also three to five times more expensive than regular furl, Douglas said, which adds to the cost of operating such flights.

By involving the concerned governments and aviation authorities as well as service providers who studied air pressure and weather patterns in its detailed route planning, the Dreamliner was able to cut travel time between London to Abu Dhabi by 40 minutes, thereby saving six tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“The contrails look pretty in the sky on a cold day, but they are not at all good. Our job is to minimise those.”

However, Douglas says it may take some time before this becomes standard across the industry.

“At the moment, sustainable fuel is expensive and there’s not enough infrastructure to make it a part of everyday flying. Coordinated airspaces, too, are not always possible. These challenges need to be worked out first.”

New routes

Etihad has commitments on 12 A350-1000s with options on further eight, Douglas said, and these will be deployed in shorter routes such as Delhi and Mumbai, and then to North American cities such as Chicago and New York. Later on, markets such as Australia and North West Europe may also be included.

Douglas says connecting US and India with the A350s will make travel convenient for Indians holding US Green Card, since Abu Dhabi airport has US pre-customs clearance facility.

No first-class configuration

The A350 will not have a first class configuration, and will only have economy and business class.

“It’s very difficult to make a profitable first-class in this day and age given the way ticket prices are. The amount of space the first-class product consumes is not economical. Business class is the way forward. It’s efficient in the way space is used, it gives all of the comforts and functionality of what was our previous generation first class. It’s commercially and environmentally sustainable,” the CEO said.

“Going forward we will see a product offering that includes an enhanced business class and an improved economy class.”